816: The Freeways Considered As Earth Gods

816: The Freeways Considered As Earth Gods

816: The Freeways Considered As Earth Gods


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Road trips appeal to the pleasure seeker in me. My wife and I are considering a cross-country trip this summer in celebration of our 10th anniversary.

I am mostly excited. I’ve made the journey several times in my life. I love the country’s varied landscapes all in one long take, the unspooling of its sublime beauty through the car’s windshield: jagged white peaks of the Rockies, California’s majestic sequoias, the swampy river parishes of Louisiana.

I find inspiration in the isolation and charm of rural spaces in Maine and stately forests flanking the Columbia River Gorge in Washington. The dazzling architecture in Boston’s Back Bay exhibits a bygone Victorian splendor.

Journeys of this kind are multisensory. I value culinary adventures and customs unfamiliar to my own, and, not least of which, the joys of strangers. People define a place, but especially so when they convey regional humor, local warmth, and a vibrant spirit delivered in an accent new to the ear and heart. And tell me, is there anything more appealing than that sense of freedom, embodied in setting off to destinations unknown, all while immersed in the natural beauty of the land, and the character of its inhabitants?

Yet, for all of my deep appreciation and expressed romance of road travel, I am worried about the carbon footprint of our trip. With greenhouse gas emissions as they are, we are wholly bound to find solutions to the impact of car travel. I want to find responsible ways of sustainably journeying on America's highways and byways.

Today’s terrifically imagined poem personifies our system of roads and thoroughfares as commanding mythic figures. In this way, it dramatizes the extent to which we are profoundly enmeshed with and dependent on that system, which has made life convenient for humankind, but in the process, imperiled our planet.

The Freeways Considered as Earth Gods
by Dana Gioia

These are the gods who rule the golden land.
Their massive bodies stretch across the countryside,
Filling the valleys, climbing the hills, curving along the coast,
Crushing the earth from which they draw their sustenance
Of tar and concrete, asphalt, sand, and steel.

They are not new, these most ancient of divinities.
Our clamor woke them from the subdivided soil.
They rise to rule us, neither cruel nor kind,
But indifferent to our ephemeral humanity.
Their motives are unknowable and profound.

The gods do not condescend to our frailty.
They cleave our cities, push aside our homes,
Provide no place to walk or rest or gather.
The pathways of the gods are empty, flat, and hard.
They draw us to them, filling us with longing.

We do not fail to worship them. Each morning 
Millions creep in slow procession on our pilgrimages.
We crave the dangerous power of their presence.
And they demand blood sacrifice, so we mount
Our daily holocaust on the blackened ground.

The gods command the hilltops and the valleys.
They rule the deserts and the howling wilderness.
They drink the rivers and clear the mountains in their way.
They consume the earth and the increase of the field.
They burn the air with their rage.

We are small. We are weak. We are mortal.
Ten thousand of us could not move one titan’s arm.
We need their strength and speed.
We bend to their justice and authority.
These are the gods of California. Worship them.

“The Freeways Considered as Earth Gods” by Dana Gioia from PITY THE BEAUTIFUL © 2012 Dana Gioia. Used by permission of Graywolf Press.